There really is an art to stupidity. In the past few years, we have been treated to some truly atrocious spoof movies that have done nothing more than merely reference popular films, thinking that saying the name of a movie in a different movie is enough to get a laugh. Not so. Spoof movies should above all else be mindful not of specific movies, but of a genre as a whole, and entrench the humor in bucking the conventions of that genre. This is why films like Edgar Wright’s Sean of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz are so universally loved, and is what director David Wain hopes to achieve here with They Came Together, a very needed satire of the romantic comedy genre.
They Came Together begins in a fancy restaurant with two couples on a nice double date. Kyle and Karen (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper) ask Joel and Molly (Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) to tell them the story of their romance. What they ultimately end up telling is a twisted tale of candy shops, murderous ex husbands, and white supremacists. In other words, a love story for the ages.
I have not seen a film so committed to such absurdest humor in quite some time (this makes 22 Jump Street look like the police procedural it was based on) and when that kind of humor is clever, it’s some of the funniest stuff around. Fortunately, this is some of the most well constructed goofy comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. What makes it work is the meticulous construction of the jokes. It’s not just a series of random references, but an utter skewering of everything people have come to find tiresome about romantic comedies. The world here is completely loose and cartoonish, leading to some pretty depraved set ups, as well as a great deal of fun wordplay, and sight gags.
It doesn’t hurt that Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are two of the finest comedic actors we have right now. They commit to absolutely every single abrasively silly sentence with such bravado that we buy into their connection even in this world that even acknowledges just how stupid those connections really can be. After all, this is a universe where two people find commonality in their love of fiction books, but with Rudd and Poehler at the helm of these jokes, you almost won’t notice. There’s also a very game supporting cast including Cobie Smulders, Ed Helms, and Christopher Meloni to help things along.
What ultimately hurts this is even at a brisk hour and 20 minute running time, it’s inevitable that some of these jokes miss. A lot of the time, the missed jokes are just a little too on the nose, particularly when characters directly state what their stereotype is. Scenes are either so funny that you’ll be gasping for air, or so dumb that you’ll be sighing loud enough to steal all the air in the room. Even so, Wain knows exactly when to stop a joke, and a lot of the time, Hader and Kemper are there to react to some of the less funny jokes, as if they’re reading the audience’s mind.
Overall, this is a mostly successful send up of romantic comedies that manages to go in some pretty unexpected and riotous directions. It can’t help but fall victim to it’s own loose structure, but even when the jokes are off, Rudd and Poehler are on. It’s not exactly worth a trip to the theater, but since most of you will see it on VOD anyway, give it a shot. It’s hard not to at least find a couple things funny in a film with this many jokes thrown at the wall.